We’ve done demons, the fae, and shifters. How did we make it this long without talking about one of my biggest obsessions in the genre… Angels. Now I did grow up in a Christian household so that probably explains some of my focus. While I’ve since moved on far away from that – I have kept a shrine of Dionysus for the past 3 years and worshiped him privately without that for years before – I can’t escape this fixation that I have always had with those winged wonders.
Hilariously, my angel thing can be traced directly back to three specific pieces of media, not actually church: the 1999 film Dogma, Kaori Yuki’s Angel Sanctuary, and Yun Kouga’s Earthian. All three of these pieces of media can, if you stretch your understanding of the genre really far, count as urban fantasy. They are, in the case of the latter two, clearly proto-urban fantasy.
Anyway, let’s dig into this!
Getting Started With Angels
Neither man nor angel can discern
Hypocrisy, the only evil that walks
– Paradise Lost, Lines 682-684
I’m sure that John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost didn’t start the Sexy Lucifer trend, but it certainly didn’t hurt to solidify Lucifer as the hot tortured figure that’d live on loudy in popular culture for centuries afterwards. Paradise Lost provided one of the earliest frameworks for presenting an alternate side to the established biblical story of The Fall and early days of humanity, one that provided the ground for a lot of boundary-crossing, Christianity-questioning work.
Prior to Paradise Lost, there were two main ways that people viewed angels in Christianity:
The many-eyed beings that had to urge humans not to be afraid of them (biblical depictions of angels were things like flaming wheels covered in eyes so you can see why… people would be afraid, yes?)
The way angels were depicted in stained glass windows and in church-sanctioned portraits of them. Blond or light brown hair, halos, gentle features, pale skin. The standard for a lot of angelic depictions for years.
(To quote Eartha Kitt: “When I walk into a church, I only see paintings of white angels. WHY?”
If you’re Christian or familiar with the religion – no matter where you’re from – that’s probably where you know angels from. While beings we can interpret as angels are also present in Islam and Judaism, we primarily associate Angels with Christianity – and predominantly Catholicism – because of how Christianity has been a constant tool of imperialism over the centuries.
The Good, the Bad, and the Awfully Upsetting
- So many authors take the opportunity to truly just… fuck around with the very concept of what it means to be an angel.
- Sexy Lucifers abound in the genre!
- Angels wrestling with their humanity and with their morality is so captivating to me?
- WING KINK
- A personal quibble, but I really don’t like visually accurate angels? You know… like the ones covered in eyes? Keep those bad boys away from me even in prose. Thanks!
- The politics of angelic hierarchies don’t always play out in a satisfying way. Because authors don’t think these things all the way through.
- Not enough wing kink.
- Also, not enough sexy Lucifers.
- I would personally like a satisfying explanation for how angels can fly at their size because I do not understand physics.
The Awfully Upsetting
- The majority of the presence of angels in urban fantasy can be used to push an author’s point of view on religion and that’s always uncomfortable.
- Even when the author is pushing a negative “this is bad, angels are the baddies” POV, it’s still often coming from a deeply Christian-centric POV.
- Like with the fae, there are a fair amount of authors whose angels are enslavers and I have no idea why they do that? It’s a personal quibble, of course, and your mileage may differ drastically.
Why (I Think) You Should Be Into Urban Fantasy About Angels
I grew up on Angel Sanctuary. I can’t mention that series enough. It was formative for me in a way that only Flowers In the Attic was aside from it – and yes, I know that two of the most formative media in my childhood were incest-heavy and I have no explanation or excuse at hand for that because… well. I just don’t.
But the angels in series like Angel Sanctuary were nothing like the angels in the books I read for the private school I went to for my first 2 years of elementary. The angels of Angel Sanctuary were cool. They were cruel. They were mean. They suffered. I don’t know how many urban fantasy authors have gone into the genre thinking about that series, but I literally cannot imagine angels without thinking of the complicated and unkind beings that populated the layers of heaven and saw nothing wrong with rolling through the earth and leaving devastation in their wake.
Angels have so much room to be complex and terrifying and in urban fantasy, where everyone is a hot mess with too much power and time on their hands… that’s an excellent combination. I think y’all should be into urban fantasy about angels because angels are just cool. They’re a being that offers lots of room to play with and unpack your own connection with angels and to push back against what we “know” of the beings and their connection with humans/humanity.
Also, again… wing kink is absolutely a thing.
Recommendations/Where To Start
- Lucifer (first and second volumes)
- The Sandman
- Angel Sanctuary
- Penryn and the End of Days (a trilogy)
- Imp Series
- Guild Hunter series
- What Happened to Lani Garver
- Dominion of the Fallen series
- Matthew Swift series
- Celestial Blues series
- The Dante Valentine series
- Evangelion (technically…)
- Haibane Renmei
- Touched By An Angel (yes, it’s a stretch too, but come on)
- (Both Angel Sanctuary and Earthian both got OVAs back in the 90s, but they’re VERY hard to get these days.)
What other angel-oriented recommendations do y’all have?